Contents
  1. About 200 ducks overwinter in Fairbanks
  2. Wastewater of the power plant provides open water
  3. Ducks stay close to the river and feed on seeds from bird feeders
  4. Ravens scavenge household garbage for dog food
  5. Christmas bird counting

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About 200 ducks overwinter in Fairbanks

In summer, I answered the question of a readers whether there are birds in Alaska in winter. In contrast to that post, which addressed large and very small birds, this post provides information on the medium size birds. Each year about 200 ducks stay over winter in the Fairbanks metropolitan area. They build feathers with more branches for insulation from the low temperatures in the double digits below zero (colder than -23oC). However, even in winter, ducks need open water for survival. In the Interior and not far from Fairbanks, what an Alaskan calls not far, several hot springs exist. But the largest open water areas are due to the power plants’ waste water that prohibits a large stretch of the river downstream from freezing.

ducks in a yard
Ducks resting in a yard close to Dead Man Slough, one of the many arms of the Chena River. the ducks in the front search the ground for seeds from the nearby trees. The duck looking to the camera is on guard
fashion blogger in skirt suit work outfit
Posing at the Pump House, a restaurant at the Chena River in a glen check patterned skirt suit, Oliveo button-down shirt, Gucci belt (all own), and wooden chronograph c/o Jord

Wastewater of the power plant provides open water

The power plant located in downtown Fairbanks, for instance, leads to open water in the Chena River for more than 1.5 miles downstream. On cold winter days, the river “steams” and white ice fog builds over the open river. When viewed from the hills north of town, the ice fog over the Chena looks like a giant snake crawling and winding thru the city.

ducks overwintering in Alaska
Ducks sleeping and eating in the snow close to Dead Man Slough

Ducks stay close to the river and feed on seeds from bird feeders

The ducks stay close to the open river stretches either on the river banks or in yards adjacent to the river and its many sloughs. They dig in the snow for seeds from trees, sunflowers, and seeds fallen onto the ground under bird feeders. Often you see them resting close to each other (like in the middle of the photo above) to stay warm, while some other ducks build a larger circle around them and make the watch. When one of them gives an alarm, a Hitchcock-like scene evolves. All ducks go up and fly towards the open water of the Chena River.

View on Fairbanks from the West Ridge in winter
View over Fairbanks from the West Ridge. Ice fog is in the air behind the closed line of spruce trees along the Chena. The small white plumes are from residential heating

Ravens scavenge household garbage for dog food

Other birds that often stay over winter are ravens, wild doves, and finches. The ravens feed on roadkill and search the dumpsters at the transfer stations for leftover dog and cat food during the day. They often sit on street lamps to warm up. At night, they fly into the hills where it is warmer during the nighttime inversions than it is in the valley.

The doves work the dumpsters, school yards and the seeds fallen down under bird feeders. Both doves and ducks benefit from squirrels who throw everything out of even “squirrel-save bird-feeders” that is not a sunflower seed. See this post for more on squirrels in winter.

Alaskan stylist in glen check skirt suit
Back view of work outfit with Oliveo shirt, Gucci belt, skirt suit, Hermes collier de chien bangle (all own) and wood watch c/o Jord at the Senator Saloon of the Pump House at the Chena River

The various types of finches hide on cold snowy days, while on sunny days they sit on the dirt roads of the outskirts of Fairbanks and munch on birch and alder seeds that fell off the trees after the last snow storm. They also visit bird feeders, but again only on sunny days.

ice fog in Fairbanks on a clear sky winter day
View over Fairbanks towards the south southeast. In the background, a power plant steam plume can be seen. Ice fog is visible behind the line of spruce trees.

Christmas bird counting

Each Christmas there is a volunteer bird counting. In spring, Creamer’s field and the University of Alaska Fairbanks experimental farm become bird paradises for all kinds of birds that overwintered in the South.

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Photos: G. Kramm

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